PEOPLE’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism will amplify perspectives on the push for equality and justice
shalom blac
Shalom Blac
| Credit: courtesy shalom blac

Shalom Blac is a beauty and lifestyle content creator working to make the beauty industry more inclusive. While growing up in Nigeria, Blac's life was forever changed when she was horrifically burned in a kitchen accident. Years later — after struggling to accept her new appearance and relying heavily on makeup — Blac moved to the U.S., where she found comfort and confidence in the vlogging community. Now 25, Blac has established a platform on YouTube and Instagram, with a combined 2.3 million followers. Here, Blac talks to PEOPLE about her journey to self-love, why representation is crucial across all industries and how being the best version of yourself will take you far.

I was 9 years old when I got burnt. My mom owned a fast food restaurant back in Nigeria, and my siblings and I would usually go in to help sell the products. Being one of the youngest, you get tired. And one day, my mom had told me to go lay down in the store.

I decided to lay down underneath one of the big tables where she put some of the food. She had a normal routine, where she took the hot oil and put it aside to cool off. That day, she did the same thing that she has always done, but out of nowhere, the big pan of hot oil fell right on my younger sister and me.

I remember waking up in so much pain and in confusion, not knowing why I'm feeling this pain. It was not a pain that I've ever experienced and it was all over my body. To this day, I can still remember smelling my flesh burning.

It took about four months of being in the hospital and getting treatment to physically recover. During that time, I became like a monster. I remember not smiling and cursing people out for staring at me. I was really mad and frustrated with the world, and how my life had suddenly changed, and was projecting those negative feelings towards people.

shalom blac
Shalom Blac
| Credit: courtesy shalom blac

After getting burned, I became more dependent on makeup. I've always loved it and had been dabbling with it from a very young age. But I started practicing more and more because I wanted to have eyebrows, and it took off from there.

I watched a lot of people doing makeup and picked up on a lot of things, but my struggle, at the time, was finding someone that was dealing with the same thing that I was. There wasn't anyone who looked like me or had scars and was doing makeup on their skin.

The way that someone with normal skin would do with their makeup wouldn't necessarily work for me, and it wasn't easy doing things that you have never done, especially when your skin has changed completely. So I had to try different things to figure out what works.

At some point, I realized I just wanted to be happy. It wasn't easy, but taking chances and leaving my house without makeup really helped me. I felt so good to have that power to just walk out of the door without makeup.

That was the beginning stage for me to just keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It felt like something was lifted off of me, and I was like, "Onto the next challenge."

Eventually, I started a YouTube page to share my story, as well as my makeup and fashion tutorials. We are all humans and everybody wants to feel beautiful, so I figured, why not use my platform to make that happen?

shalom blac
Shalom Blac
| Credit: courtesy shalom blac

Right now, I am loving the direction that the beauty community is going — and the world itself — but we still have a lot of work to do.

Being a woman of color, we always strive to make sure that we are represented. When I started getting into makeup, it was hard for me to find a foundation shade that was fitting for my skin tone. With the years passing by, we now have brands that offer 50 shades, so it's obviously getting better.

Representation is so important because every young girl and boy needs to see themselves. Being able to see yourself represented, it's just a motivation to know that you can also get there.

I love to see commercials with women who look like me, with natural hair, for example, because we've dealt with all of those insecurities for so many years. We've been taught to think that's not beautiful, so I think it's important to let that be seen to help the next generation be better.

When I think about how other people see me as a role model now, it's unbelievable to me. I thought a girl who looks like me would never get that chance to be in the spotlight or to be heard. But my mom always said, "You have a purpose."

The burn memories are ones that I always have in my head and I will forever have those, but now, I feel like it's not bad. It was bad, the things that happened, but those memories helped me to realize where I came from and where I am right now.

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I'm not going to lie: sometimes it does still sting, but I've just got to keep pushing forward. Do I still sometimes go through moments where I'm down and wishing that this never happened to me? Yes, but it's all good. It's all part of living.

There's so much more to life than just the physical appearance, and there's so much to offer, so always be your own kind of beautiful.

I've learned to stay true to myself because being myself is what got me this far. I didn't have to pretend to be anyone to get here.

So define what beautiful is to you — and always be that person as much as you can.

— As told to Joelle Goldstein

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